Sugar. We all know how delicious it is. It’s a key ingredient in most of our favourite sweet treats, so it must be bad for us, right? Well, it’s not quite as simple as that.
Anthony Glock, physiologist, at AXA Health, explains the different types of sugar, which of those we should cut back on and those that can and should be part of a balanced diet.
But, as with so many things, too much of it can be bad for your health. Excess sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.1 So, while we shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying something sweet every now and then, it’s important to know how much sugar is too much, and to understand that it can be found in everyday foods that you may not expect.
What are the different kinds of sugar?
There are lots of different sugars but, to simplify things, it’s best to start by breaking it down into two categories.
1. ‘Added’ or ‘free’ sugars – These tend to have been removed from their original source and added to our food and drinks. They include fructose, glucose and sucrose, which are used to sweeten things like fizzy drinks, cakes, chocolate and even breakfast cereals. The sugar in honey and syrup also counts as ‘free’ sugar, even though it’s naturally occurring and can contain antioxidants.
‘Free’ sugars provide unnecessary calories and have very few nutritional benefits. These are the sugars that are typically over-consumed, and which can be attributed to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay1. One of the issues we face is that they can be ‘hidden’ within everyday foods that you might expect to be healthy.
2. Natural sugars - In contrast, the sugars that are naturally found in foods, such as fructose in fruit, and lactose in milk, also contain vitamins, protein, minerals and fibre, which are essential for a balanced diet and maintaining good health.
Naturally occurring sugars act differently in the body compared to ‘free’ sugars because they’re accompanied by these other nutrients. These make it easier for the body to be able to absorb the naturally occurring sugar at a slow and steady rate.